From the 5th of September till the 19th, the workcamp “Community Garden for Diversity” took place in Leipzig. Die Villa, a non-profit cultural centre based in Leipzig Zentrum, hosts every year long- and short-term ESC volunteers. Last year, because of the corona emergency, unfortunately it was not possible for many people to travel; therefore, the participants of the workcamp were mostly locals. This year, fourteen volunteers from all over Europe joined the project “Community Garden for Diversity”. I also took part in most part of the activities, because the topic of the workcamp was related to my long-term project in the CJD Ökohaus Markkleeberg.
During these two weeks, we experienced how to contribute to build a barrier free garden. Die Villa cooperates since years with Gemeinsam Grün (“Together Green”), a non-profit organization whose main goal is to create a community garden where people with disabilities can feel integrated and actively give their contribute. In fact, in a society that often seems to forget that not all the people have the same physical and mental abilities (just two examples: my flat is at the fifth floor of a building with no elevator – I cannot even invite a friend with mobility difficulties for a coffee; in my work place the toilet is so small that a wheelchair can’t pass through), it is important that nobody is left behind. Therefore, an egalitarian society should guarantee to people with disabilities appropriate, safe, and accessible spaces. Gemeinsam Grün stands for equality and inclusion by promoting barrier free structures and other initiatives. Since 2019, the association has been building SALVIA, a barrier free educational garden in the east of Leipzig.
What does “barrier free” exactly means? This concept indicates a new way of thinking the public and private space all around us. So often, people with disabilities are disadvantaged because of the lack of appropriate structures, which cause them enormous difficulties in moving around. A barrier free structure is designed or planned so that everyone can freely use it. “Barrier free” is meant for any kind of barrier: indeed, one of the initiatives of SALVIA garden is to make a free tour of the garden through sign language, so that also deaf-mute people are included!
During two weeks, we have been working in SALVIA. The garden is about 4,000 square meter, and it was built on the site of a former allotment garden colony. At the beginning, the area was neglected, almost inaccessible, and full of trash. The team of SALVIA cleaned it up and created different cultivation areas (green houses, high beds, and traditional “open air” cultivations), a bees area, a hens area (although there are no hens yet), and a wild area. In SALVIA, the high beds and the bee area are build such that also a person in a wheelchair can work on them. Furthermore, a stone path has been built last year to allow people with disabilities to move around freely; the toilet is also accessible to people in a wheelchair.
In SALVIA garden we worked mainly on the “revitalization” of a part of the wild area, called the “forest garden”. Every day, the group was split up in smaller groups, which had to carry out different activities. The participants to the workcamp could choose the tasks that they liked more and at the same time improve their teambuilding skills. Some of the activities included cooking, backing, planting, harvesting fruit and vegetables, fixing bikes, building insect hotels, and other garden work. Particularly interesting where the workshop about bees, and the preparation of dressing for salad with herbs from the garden. SALVIA has at least 10 different types of mint, other than parsley, rosemary, leek, and obviously sage (“salvia” is in fact the Italian and Spanish translation of “sage”). One of the activities was to collect them, cut them in small pieces, and mix with oil or vinegar. The result was a very fragrant topping for salads!
One day, the volunteers visited my workplace, the CJD Ökohaus Markkleeberg. My mentor Martin and I provided small tour of the place, so that the volunteers could have the opportunity to see a different approach of gardening. For lunch, we tasted a delicious soup made of bio-potatoes from our garden prepared by my colleagues. In the afternoon, the volunteers build birdhouses with local wood. Even if for most of them was the first time, the result was excellent.
In the second week, we worked in the garden together with about 10 youngsters from the Förderschule Thonberg, a school for special needs. The students, between 10 and 16 years old, joined all the activities, supported by their teachers and social workers. It was nice to work with them, they were so motivated, so the atmosphere was really friendly!
The “Community Garden for Diversity” was not only a workcamp, but a full-time experience of personal, social, and cultural enrichment. In fact, after the working hours, other activities were planned by the team of Die Villa, including the discovery of the beautiful city of Leipzig and its history through walking tour and sightseeing, international evenings with food and drinks from different countries, concerts, and relaxing time at the beach of Cossi (a famous lake in the Leipzig Landkreis).